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Review: Café Society

Unfortunately, and surprisingly, Kristen Stewart isn’t the best part of Woody Allen’s Cafe Society. This honour goes instead to the cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, who worked on Apocalypse Now and Last Tango in Paris. The contrast of Los Angeles and New York City shine brightly, and Storaro goes beyond over-lighting and under-lighting to create two completely separate worlds.

Too bad that the actors in Woody Allen’s tale of morality and amour in 1930’s Hollywood, (but really, just as much about the present day), do not possess such a spirit. Again, they all look fine, (costumes and hair and make-up are all beautiful, and Stewart’s pink eye shadow particularly stands out), but the stars do not feel right for the roles.

Well, of course Jesse Eisenberg is a perfect fit as the nebbish Bobby Dorfman, who embarks on a cross-country journey from New York to L.A. in order to get a job working for his uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carell). The journey itself is barely captured on screen, but the destinations count for so much, and this is where the movie itself succeeds. The set pieces and dialogue sing, though the later incarnation of Eisenberg, having returned home to New York to open a nightclub is more interesting than the awkward L.A. version of him.

The interaction between Eisenberg and Stewart, who plays Stern’s secretary Veronica (Vonnie) feels forced, perhaps because they have been paired together three times before. They work better as confidantes than as lovers. Complicating matters is that it is revealed that Stern has also taken a shine to Vonnie, although the niggling detail of the two of them being together is not revealed until much later.

The supporting actors, such as Corey Stoll as Bobby’s wayward brother Ben are fine, although Stoll with hair is unsettling. Bobby’s parents are played with gusto by Ken Stott and Jeannie Berlin (Elaine May’s daughter), and Anna Camp shows up early on in a bizarre but brief scene as a prostitute.

The disappointment of Cafe Society is that Bobby remains attracted to Vonnie despite marrying and having a baby with another Veronica (Blake Lively) in New York. The attraction factor in the film might have worked, though once again, Eisenberg and Stewart didn’t seem to have the vibe, (but for that matter, neither do Stewart and Carell). It is easy to see why an amateur such as Bobby would fall for Vonnie, as Stewart wears the look of the thirties very well.

In essence, this film is cousin to the Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar, another gorgeously shot (by Roger Deakins) broad comedy about the earlier days of Hollywood which feels very contemporary, almost slickly modern. The set pieces in Cafe Society are all fine, but there is a missing “oomph” factor that seems to be missing when it is needed the very most.

[star v=3]